Movie Review – The Dunwich Horror (1970)
In the 1950s Daniel Haller met low-budget horror producer-extraordinaire Roger Corman who persuaded him to become an art director for his pictures throughout the 1960s. In 1965 he tried his hand at directing and made Die, Monster, Die! for American International Pictures, a very early adaptation of an H.P. Lovecraft story. In 1970 he returned to the genre to make another Lovecraft adaptation, The Dunwich Horror.
The Dunwich Horror is a B-movie starring Dean Stockwell as the occultist Wilbur Whateley, who steals the Necronomicon from Dr. Henry Armitage, played by Ed Begley in his last film role – he died of a heart attack three months after the movie was released. Whateley deceives and draws under his influence Nancy Wagner – played by Sandra Dee in a role that sheds her squeaky clean teen image – who he plans to use as a vessel to summon the Old Ones.
The film reflects the fascination with the occult that was being experienced at the time. The 1960s were a time of turbulence and upheaval, and the combination of a society that felt like it was perhaps seeing the end of their civilization with hippie counterculture, whose “Dawning of the Age of Aquarius” suggested pre-Christian models for living, meant a mixture of occult and witchcraft in popular media. No movie embodied this more than the classic Rosemary’s Baby, released in 1968, and the seduction and dreamlike rituals to which Nancy succumbs are very much reminiscent of that film’s rape scene.
The Dunwich Horror is a low-budget affair that can move at a snail’s pace, though it gets creative with its limitations through point-of-view attacks by the supernatural creature in the woods, relying on sounds and colors to signify the assaults. The camera moving through the woods is a technique Sam Raimi would adopt in The Evil Dead (1981). Nevertheless, the movie has not aged nearly as well as some of its contemporaries, such as the previously mentioned Rosemary’s Baby. The ending is especially awkward and the actors appear confused as to the actions which they are meaning to convey.
Haller would turn to television the following year, having a fairly successful run up through the 1980s. The Dunwich Horror is interesting as a curio of its era, but there is not a lot that will whet the appetites for modern horror fans.